Gov. Doug Ducey declares opioid emergency in Arizona

PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday declared a public health emergency spurred by a devastating jump in Arizona opioid deaths in 2016, calling for a coordinated effort by the medical community and state and local governments to find solutions to an epidemic.

Arizona reached a record 790 opioid deaths in 2016, a 74 percent increase over the previous four years, according to a report by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“Hearts ache” for families affected by drug abuse, but those feelings need to transform into action, Ducey said in a statement.

“I’m declaring a statewide health emergency because we need to know more about the epidemic, including enhanced data that illustrates when and where these overdoses occur so that we can develop real, targeted solutions,” Ducey said.

Some of those solutions, in an Arizona Department of Health Services call for action, include:

  • Doctors and other medical workers at hospitals telling treatment plans to patients who have been admitted for an opioid overdose. Data from 2015 found that on average opioid patients visit the hospital three times before they die from an overdose.
  • Creating guidelines to educate healthcare providers on responsible prescribing practices, expand access to treatment, and reverse overdoses through the distribution of naloxone.
  • By early September, the health services department will provide a report that recommends other solutions, including possible changes to Arizona law.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention selected Arizona for a four-year, $3.6 million grant to combat the opioid addiction epidemic. And last fall, Ducey announced a program to allow Arizona residents to drop off out-of-date prescription drugs for safe disposal at some Walgreens stores.

Opioid addiction is one of the deadliest scourges in the nation. Most drug overdose deaths in the U.S. involved opioids, according to the CDC. Preliminary data from The New York Times shows a 19 percent increase nationally in drug overdose deaths.